Several Republican senators expressed concerns about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) health and his ability to lead their caucus even though a doctor said he was clear to resume his duties in the upper chamber.
“Next year is gonna be tough on anybody,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said of the 2024 calendar. “You gotta travel, raise money, campaign … it is going to be a packed year for anybody, but if you’re the leader, it’s double.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), meanwhile, said he was concerned about McConnell’s health and the attention it’s getting in his state.
“I’m also concerned about the amount of questions I’m getting. I just spent a month at home and I was asked about it everywhere ― before the most recent incident,” Hawley said.
“You can’t say that you’re concerned about Joe Biden but you’re not concerned about Mitch McConnell,” Hawley added.
Brian Monahan, the U.S. Capitol attending physician, said in a note released by McConnell’s office on Tuesday that there is “no evidence” the 81-year-old senator experienced a stroke or has a seizure disorder following his second freeze-up in Kentucky last week.
Monahan has also said that lightheadedness and dehydration were not uncommon symptoms for people who have experienced a concussion. McConnell was hospitalized for a concussion after he fell and hit his head earlier this year.
But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a frequent thorn in McConnell’s side on budget issues and Senate procedure, didn’t appear satisfied with Monahan’s diagnosis.
“I don’t think it’s been particularly helpful to have the Senate doctor describe it as dehydration which I think even non-physicians seeing that probably aren’t really accepting that explanation,” Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, told reporters on Tuesday.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s a neurological event, it’s not dehydration,” Paul added.
McConnell briefly acknowledged the latest freeze-up in remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, but the longtime GOP Senate leader gave no more additional information about his health and declined to take any questions.
Senators who spoke to McConnell said he was in good spirits but that he still had lingering effects from his fall.
“‘I’ve taken every test they’ve thrown at me,’” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) recounted McConnell telling him on the Senate floor. “He said, ‘A concussion can take its toll.’”
The Republican senators who are publicly backing McConnell amid heavy speculation over his political future vastly outnumber those raising questions like Paul, Hawley and Tuberville. Hawley, for example, was one of only 11 GOP senators who voted to oust McConnell as leader in a closed-door caucus election last year.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, described McConnell’s detractors as a “very small group of people” that number “maybe a handful.” Those senators will likely get a chance to air their thoughts in a closed-door caucus lunch meeting on Wednesday.
The likeliest successors to McConnell in the Senate as GOP leader ― Sens. John Thune (S.D.), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and John Cornyn (Texas) ― all voiced support for the Kentucky senator on Tuesday.
“He has my full support, and he’ll have, I think, the support of the conference,” Thune said.
“I’ve told Senator McConnell I’m gonna support him as long as he wants to do the job and can do the job,” Cornyn added.